Asheville in the Books: American Literary Greats & Their Experiences in Western NC
Posted On Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Did you know that Asheville is both a place of inspiration for some well-known writers and a source of loathing by others? It's true. Some of America's most famous authors, poets and essayists either lived in Asheville for a period of time or visited parts of Western North Carolina during their lifetime. Here's a little more insight into the intriguing lives of those literary figures and their experiences in and around Asheville.
Asheville Native & Author Thomas Wolfe
You might think that an Asheville native would only be shown love and adoration by his community. Well, that really wasn't the case for Asheville-born author Thomas Wolfe. Published in 1929 Look Homeward, Angel did not settle well with the Asheville natives of the time. Why? It might be because he depicted the locals to be—hmmm what were the terms he used, oh yes—ignorant and unfriendly. Ouch.
His views on the town and its residents did not go over well. At all. The backlash resulted in threats on his life, negative reviews of his work and more than a little bit of hostility from his friends and neighbors. The novel was banned from the shelves of the Asheville Library. In fact, Wolfe didn't return to Asheville until late in the 1930s because of all of the hullabaloo. (Interestingly, he never quite understood the vexation of his fellow Ashevillians.)
Time heals all wounds, as they say. As Wolfe's success burgeoned, Asheville softened its views and eventually embraced its now famed novelist. Wolfe was born at 92 Woodfin Street in Asheville, which is now just a pavement parking lot of the YMCA. His mother ran a boarding house on Woodfin Street known as the Old Kentucky Home. The good news is that you can visit the Old Kentucky Home because it has been named a state historic site and is open to the public as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.
October is known as Thomas Wolfe month in Asheville. There are special events planned in celebration of the once outcast author. Get to know Thomas Wolfe better by visiting his memorial while you're in town. There's also an upcoming movie set for release in 2015 entitled Genius, starring Jude Law as Wolfe himself alongside Colin Firth. Put it on your watch list!
Novelist, Short-Story Writer & Poet F. Scott Fitzgerald
Famous for such works as The Great Gatsby and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald has an intriguing and somewhat scandalous reputation, which followed him during his time in Asheville. Fitzgerald was known for his drinking and womanizing, even during his time at the Grove Park Inn. He didn't suffer too much at the luxurious Blue Ridge retreat where he spent his time (quite lavishly we might add) during his wife's psychiatric treatment at the Highland Hospital in Asheville.
He was said to whittle the days away drinking on the large porches, admiring the grandeur of the panoramic mountain views and keeping company with the younger crowd—specifically the young, beautiful women. Oh, and supposedly he managed to make time to write a story or two while there. The lavish lifestyle of the roaring twenties which he detailed in many of his books was also obviously reflected in his personal life.
There is even an account of a picture that once hung in the historic Grove Park Inn, which brought additional scandal to his already scandalous life. The picture was captioned "F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda," when in fact the photograph actually depicted Fitzgerald and one of his lovers. Oops. Just another minor indiscretion.
Poet & Lincoln Biographer Carl Sandburg
There's a little less scandal and a lot more Asheville love when we talk about Pulizter Prize winning poet Carl Sandburg. He loved Western North Carolina so much that he decided to move there in 1945. He bought a little farm which he named Connemara in the town of Flat Rock, NC. Both Sandburg and his wife Lilian thought it to be the perfect place for their family and their endeavors.
It is said that Sandburg liked to write in the early evening and often continued into the wee morning hours. His smoke-filled study provided the solace he desired where he wrote or typed amidst newspaper clippings, notes, papers strewn about, and books... lots of books (like 12,000 of them). He was also known to escape his study and sit outside on a stone ledge where the unrelenting heat from a North Carolina summer did not even phase him. He was that engrossed in his work.
During his time at Connemara in Western, North Carolina, he wrote some of his most memorable works including Remembrance Rock and Always the Young Strangers.
We hope we've piqued your interest in some of Asheville's famed residents and visitors of the literary persuasion. The good news is that there are so many more to read about! Check out a more comprehensive list of American authors who lived or spent time in Asheville here. It's an interesting read for sure. Enjoy!